AAE 51800: Low-Gravity Fluid Dynamics


Theory and design for control of liquid propellants in weightlessness. Gravity and orbits review. Satellite and space-probe acceleration environments. Capillary-dominated fluid dynamics: contact angle, surface tension, curvatures, and solution methods. Industry practice and current topics. Professor Collicott.

Format: 3 hrs lecture per week

Credit hours: 3

Status: Elective, Aerodynamics, Astronautics

Offered: Fall

Pre-requisite: A 400-level fluid mechanics or propulsion course or consent of instructor

Co-requisite: None

Course Instructor: Professor Collicott

Text: No suitable text exists. A packet of information based on NASA technical reports, recent engineering and research papers, and software manual and tutorials for the zero-gravity fluids code is used.

Assessment Method: Grading is based on performance on homeworks, original semester projects, and a final examination.

Course Goals:

The goal of the course is to introduce aerospace engineering students to industrial low-gravity fluids topics. The modern tools and techniques in use for spacecraft propellant management systems and the associated propulsion system are the themes of the course.

Course Objective: Upon completion students should have knowledge of:

  1. Spaceflight and test facility acceleration environments.
  2. The macroscopic fluid physics of surface tension, contact angle, free surface energy, wetting phenomena, and similar. Classical capillary instability. Concus-Finn condition for corner wetting
  3. Dimensionless parameters for common zero-g two-phase fluids and thermal-fluids issues. Scaling of spacecraft tanks for short-duration experiment design.
  4. Basic components and purposes of commercial satellite propulsion systems.
  5. The important history and the publications history of successful passive liquid acquisition and control devices that are the basis for contemporary spacecraft tank design.
  6. Use of the Surface Evolver code for low-g and one-g two-phase capillary-dominated fluids modeling and analysis. Spacecraft mass properties, gravity gradient effects, spin, topology comparison, etc.
  7. Propellant slosh physics and prediction methods.

Necessary Background:

Vector calculus

Topics (number of Lectures):

  1. Acceleration environments in space flight and ground test. (2)
  2. Gravity gradient in orbit. Orbit perturbation review. (2)
  3. Capillary-dominated two-phase fluid mechanics. Surface tension, contact angle, elementary solutions to wicking problems, capillary instability in cylinders (5)
  4. Dimensionless groups, scaling laws for experiments (2)
  5. Gaussian curvature of surfaces and other geometry topics (3)
  6. Spacecraft propellant management: history, components, function (6)
  7. Modeling of three-dimensional capillary-dominated two-phase fluid statics with Surface Evolver: (6)
  8. Ground test details: aircraft flight, drop tower, sounding rocket (3)
  9. Propellant slosh in weightlessness (5)
  10. Current events and experiments in low-g fluid dynamics (3)
  11. Propellant gauging: methods in use in industry and remaining needs (5)
  12. Exams and project presentations (3)

Contribution of course to meeting the professional component:

This course focuses on unique fluid dynamics problems in space flight propulsion (1). Students work independently and jointly (2b) to work a variety of analysis and design problems (2a) including a semester project with an oral presentation (2d). The economics of the commercial space business for everyday utilities such as TV, paging, etc., are frequently discussed, bringing the business side of space to the students.

Prepared by: S. H. Collicott

Date: March 2, 2001